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Alimony Reform May Impact South Carolina Divorce and Family Law cases

It does not address the existing bar to alimony in cases involving adultery, but if enacted, HB 3122 appears to attempt to modernize existing alimony law and improve how well the code meets the needs of couples in the 21st century. Some of the key changes include:

  1. Addition of a new form of alimony called “Transactional Alimony.”  This form of alimony is non-modifiable and paid for a specific time period to assist a spouse “…who already possesses the capacity for self-sufficiency but needs financial assistance in adjusting to the economic consequences of establishing and maintaining a household without the benefit of the other spouse's income.”
  2. Revision of the code permitting termination of periodic alimony when one spouse begins cohabitation with a romantic companion. This revisions would eliminate the requirement that the cohabitation be for a period of 90 or more days before an action be brought for termination of alimony, permitting a case to be filed only upon an allegation of "cohabitation".
  3. Establishment of a clear preference for non-permanent alimony awards in marriages shorter than ten years.  In cases where permanent alimony is ordered, courts would be required to provide written reasons for not choosing other forms of alimony.
  4. Additional language requiring courts in alimony modification actions to also consider “… the supported spouse's efforts to become self-sufficient, or the supported spouse's retention or diminution of assets received through equitable distribution…”

Considering these amendments in their entirety, it appears the legislature is attempting to effect fewer awards of permanent alimony in marriages of 10 years or less, and to provide the new alimony option called “Transactional Alimony.”

Transactional alimony appears to be designed to serve parties who have education or skills but who have not been engaged in the workforce for a period of time. Unlike Rehabilitation alimony, it cannot be modified and must terminate at the end of the specified time period. Rehabilitation alimony, conversely, can be modified upon a change of circumstances and can even be renewed at the end of the “rehabilitative term,” should the supported spouse not be “rehabilitated.”

Another significant proposed change is the termination of alimony if a spouse resides with a romantic companion.  The old statute requires a 90 day term of residence, but that provision has been removed.  Some questions to consider: How does one prove (or disprove) where they reside? What if a person sleeps every night with their romantic companion and keeps a separate mailing address?

I THINK I understand the legislature’s intent, but the wording of this revision is a trial lawyers dream come true!  I hope they will clarify this language before giving trial attorneys more reasons to litigate divorce and family law cases in South Carolina.